City grows by 400 acres

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The City of Liberty Hill grew by nearly 400 acres at the end of May, bringing in a small parcel on the east side of town and larger one on the west end.

In two separate annexation actions May 28, the City Council approved annexation and development agreements with the Estates of Liberty Hill and Butler Farms.

Butler Farms is the larger of the two at about 350 acres on the north side of State Highway 29 west of Liberty Hill High School. It is being developed by Marlin Atlantis, which also developed MorningStar.

“This allows for the city to extend its utilities out to the west with some additional capacity, and with the anticipation of a site dedicated to the city for a wastewater plant down the line for expansion of those services,” said City Administrator Greg Boatright.

Because future capacity at the new water plant off US Highway 183 is limited, Boatright said that negotiations for further development of the Butler family property south of SH 29 would likely include a site for a wastewater plant on the west side of town. This agreement is the first step in development of the Butler family property.

“What we’re hopeful of is to be able to negotiate with the Butlers on the 3,000 acres and bring that into the ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction) of the city,” he said. ‘That has been one of the focal points of trying to get this deal put together so that we can then begin negotiations with the Butlers on what happens going forward on the 3,000 acres. We certainly want that as part of Liberty Hill. It would be a long-term agreement we would put together with the Butler family.”

The 3,000 acres on the south side of SH 29, covering much of the land between SH 29 and RR 1869 to the Burnet County line, is the future focus of much development discussion for the area.

“I think the Butler family recognizes that at some point that property will develop and that’s what they put it together for over all these years,” Boatright said. “They’re negotiating on behalf of the future generations of their family to ensure it gets developed in a way that they want it. We’re anxious to start those talks with them and see what kind of deal works well for them and the city. It is such a major piece of property to add to our city. It would double the size of our city.”

The size of the property in question, and its position between Liberty Hill, Leander and Bertram makes it a key focus.

“Getting that into your jurisdiction where you can protect against another city possibly moving in and taking it over, so it is the old adage, if you’re not growing you’re going backward,” Boatright said. “Being able to bring that in would be something that would help protect us to the west and that would be one of the things we could say has been addressed and move on to something else. Just getting that negotiation put together and agreed upon, and not having to worry about Bertram or Leander coming in, that kind of thing, because it is such a major chunk of property.”

He said there was no specific timetable yet for negotiations on the remainder of the Butler property.

The second parcel annexed was the Estates of Liberty Hill – formerly known as Horseshoe Village. It is 35 acres along the east side of US 183 just north of SH 29.

Developers sought the voluntary annexation and development agreement to extend and expand wastewater service to double the size of the community.

“A general law city can only annex if the property is contiguous,” Boatright said. “As we work toward moving our city limits up 183 north, we can’t step over that particular piece. We have a new owner who wants to come on to our sewer service and is willing to pay for that expansion. That in itself adds to the ability for us to extend our services even further.”

The city had worked on this agreement for more than three years with previous owners. It should be home to about 500 people when fully developed.

While the city’s population is currently nowhere near the threshold to switch from a Type A General Law City, to a Home Rule City, Boatright said he has heard concerns over how fast the city might reach that point now with these annexations and the potential agreement with Stonewall, but he is not so sure it would happen that quickly.

Stonewall is currently 400 homes with an anticipated total buildout of 1,100.

“It depends on where we are at with Stonewall and how that deal comes together, and how the developments we have within our jurisdiction go,” Boatright said. “If the economy keeps going like it is, those subdivisions will fill up, but the reality is in our city limits, if we build 100 homes a year, that’s a lot of houses. And that’s only 300 (additional) population.”

With the Census coming up, if the city moves forward with becoming Home Rule and then falls short of the 5,000 minimum population it could face a challenge and have to reverse itself.

“If we weren’t right up against a Census, we could self declare if we felt like we were close to 5,000,” Boatright said. “But, with the Census being just around the corner and those official numbers coming out, I don’t want to step across a line and commit our city to something and then the Census tells us we don’t have that number. I don’t want to commit to something come 2021 we find out we’re short on. We just have to wait it out and see where that Census comes in.”

The biggest benefit to the change would be the extended ETJ.

“You can protect your borders much better against other cities because instead of a half-mile ETJ you have a two-mile ETJ,” Boatright said, adding that annexation is an easier process as well, at least for now.

“Annexation and property tax are at the top of the chart for state legislators,” he said. “Who knows what that’s going to look like when we become a home rule city. It could look completely different than it does right now.”

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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